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Why Communism Failed


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In some ways, communism succeeded. It led to rapid industrialization and better gender equality in both Russia and China, and both countries were able to grow their economies massively. However, after WWII, their imperialist expansion of communism into the West caused backlash from the U.S. and Great Britain. Western powers forced most communist and socialist leaders out Latin America, and eventually the rulers of China and Russia realized that they needed to become capitalist to thrive, marking the fall of communism. Marx’s idea of using a strong centralized power to forcibly redistribute wealth led to systemic economic failures in Russia, but the communist powers after WWII primarily declined due to Western pressure over their expansion rather than intrinsic flaws of communism.

It might be necessary to concede that communism has some intrinsic flaws. The Marxist plan to use political supremacy to centralize wealth leads to authoritarianism and accounts for many failures of communism. As Marx stated in the Communist Manifesto, to become equal to the bourgeoise, the proletariat “will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible”. However, according to Russian historian Roy Medvedev, ordinary workers were just as exploited by Stalin’s Russia, but the state had taken the place of the capitalists.

Marx also mentions that socialism requires the overtaking of democracy, which involves the suppression of the opposition; a means of implementing this is a totalitarian, dictatorial government such as the ones created by Russia and China. Furthermore, change that benefits the ruler more than the people can cause the failure of the country. For example, the peasants suffered due to harsh taxation to benefit the state, which caused famines in Russia. Therefore, the forceful implementation of communist ideals in the way Marx suggested often helps develop an inherently negative authoritarian government.

The expansion of the communist ideology occurred because the Soviet Union felt that its country’s safety was threatened by Western militaries. Stalin said in response to Churchill’s allegations about his iron curtain, “what can be surprising in the fact that the Soviet Union, in a desire to ensure its security for the future, tries to achieve that these countries have governments whose relations to the Soviet Union are loyal?” Stalin feared that the West would militarily support right-wing and oppressive governments which fought communists, and he was correct—the U.S. would later sponsor the Iran–Contra affair as well as Pinochet’s coup.

Although some historians argue that expansion against capitalists is an intrinsic flaw of communism, this is not the primary reason why Stalin felt the need to expand. The Soviet Union expanded to include much of Eastern Europe to help create an “iron curtain” or buffer between the Soviet Union and the West and protect its national security. Thus, Stalin had both the right and duty to capture surrounding territory as he had to survive against the West.

Ultimately, communism fell because American leaders overreacted to the protectionist communists, creating a geopolitical environment where communism was infeasible. According to the historian Davidson, American policy makers consistently exaggerated Stalin’s ambitions; in actuality, he was not prepared to infiltrate Western nations at the war’s end—much of the farmland and industry in the Soviet Union lay in ruins. The United States government argued that to preserve the American way of life, it needed to step forward and liberate the Latin Americans, who acted as part of the USSR’s political buffer zone, from their socialist leaders through investments and donation of military supplies to radical right-wing counter-insurgency groups, which helped prevent communism from gaining a strong footing in Latin America and Europe.

Other historians have argued that intrinsically stagnant economies caused the failure of communism in Russia and China. However, according to Robert Strayer, the Truman doctrine made the Soviet Union give more attention to national security than their domestic issues and already failing infrastructure, leading to the poor quality and decreasing availability of consumer goods. The people became aggravated against the government, prompting leaders such as Gorbachev and Deng to save their countries by increasing political and economic freedom, causing the end of communism. The Americans thought the expansion of the communism had to be opposed, and as a result, they spent considerable effort quashing communist states, which eventually caused the fall of communism.

Marxist ideals such as free education, centralization of communication and transport, and reduction of class inequality are not inherently bad, although Marxism’s extreme use of political supremacy led to an unstable authoritarian government. When these values were applied to form the USSR government, they doomed Russia and China, which could not hold up in a fight against the West. In the end, communism failed because the Western countries’ invalid fears over the communist buffer zone and fervent opposition to the spread of communism created a hostile geopolitical and economic environment for USSR and China.

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4 thoughts on “Why Communism Failed

  1. This is true, although…

    We must realize that the quality of living in communist states was considerably poor, and some communist regimes fell due to uprisings from their public.

    Yes, it is true that communism failed because of Western fears, although if the quality of life inside these communist states were much better, some of the regimes might not have fallen, as they would have gained support from their public (Why would they go against their own governments? Their lives would have been good, they would have worked an average amount of hours for a fair amount of food and vacation. The public would have had no incentive to go against their governments if they lived relatively happy lives in stable conditions).

  2. I agree, I am currently in 7th grade and I have seem to understand that communism cannot be real, there will be a social hierarchy which will influence how a person is treated.

    1. A nonsensical analysis. If the idea is that some authority must exist, Communists do not deny this. Bakunin writes that in the matter of shoemaking, he refers to the cobbler, in matters of art, he refers to the artist…etc. The point is that coercive and force-based hierarchies must be removed, capitalist exploitation being one of them. If the point is that Communism results in social hierarchy, you provide no examples and analysis, and a doctrinal analysis shows that Capitalism, functioning on private ownership and a class stratification, would result in far more hierarchy than a Communist society.

  3. This article presents an un-nuanced account, beginning both in the title, historical analysis, and analysis of Marx’s writings. The sections on Marx’s writings are especially concerning, given rampant false equivocation (i.e. of the term “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”), and the simply ridiculous analysis of Marx’s conception of revolutionary processes. The article also doesn’t explain the material reasons why China and the USSR “failed”, perhaps all the better given that the standard answer is, roughly satirized by Eagleton, ” If it took over the Home Counties tomorrow, so the case goes, there would be labour camps in Dorking before the week was out”. Expect an answer.

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